Brooklyn’s Pop. 1280 take their name from Jim Thompson’s crime novel bearing the same title, and they live up to their namesake with dark and gritty exercises in abrasive synth-addled punk blasts. But as literary analogues go, Pop. 1280 seem just as much informed by the bleak futuristic narratives of dystopian sci-fi, if not lyrically, then certainly in their harrowing juxtaposition of nihilistic human sounds and machines that come across as positively evil. If you can imagine Cormac McCarthy, George Orwell, William Gibson and Philip K. Dick playing in a post-punk band, then it might sound something like their debut album, The Horror.
The Horror, the band’s first full-length for Sacred Bones following last year’s The Grid EP, is a pretty harsh listen in all the best ways. The band’s punishing combination of scratchy guitar squeals, pummeling bass and Chris Bug’s bellows have seen the band mentioned as part of a burgeoning network of bands breathing new life into the “pigfuck” sound made infamous by the likes of The Jesus Lizard. Unlike that fucked-up band of Chicago bruisers, however, Pop. 1280 tap into primitive electronics for a touch of mega-creepy coldwave atmosphere.
From the beginning of The Horror, Pop. 1280 offer a merciless onslaught of ugly guitar skronk and minimal analog synth that can, combined, sound simultaneously cold and beastly. “Burn the Worm” has a sinister groove, which gives way to piercing jabs of guitar, while “New Electronic” finds a happy medium between Suicide and The Birthday Party. Toward the album’s middle, however, the band explores more nuanced territory, which can be just as harrowing, but in different ways. “Cyclotron” incorporates some vocoder, making more literal the threat of killer robots. Yet the album’s most impressive track is “Beg Like a Human,” a six-minute gothic dirge that trudges slowly, heightening the level of terror with each measure and climaxing with a buzzing, haunted organ two minutes in.
The soundtrack to a terrifying personal dystopia, Pop. 1280′s The Horror is quite impressive in its ability to creep out with fairly simple post-punk sounds. Nothing feels safe here, and everything is disorientingly harsh. Some might find that an obstacle to its enjoyment, but I declare it a success.